The influx of information on historical and current research and the increased connections with other feminists through social media have combined to make me extremely aware of some of the ways these biases impact me.
I've been fairly sheltered from the worst of the effects. I was born into a family where both of my parents believed I could be anyone I wanted to be. While the church I attended as a child and teen had very limited views and held to the idea of traditional femininity, my parents never reinforced those strictures. I surrounded myself with friends who supported my passions and listened to my ideas.
Still, I know that the world is not perfect. Even with encouragement, I still self-censor to an extreme degree. I defer to the opinions of others more than I should. I am non-confrontational to a degree that stifles my own voice. Society, as a whole, reinforces the idea that my ideas aren't as valuable as those of the men around me.
I see women I respect online having their voices shouted down. I see them on the receiving end of horrific slurs and threats. I see women being taught countless ways to protect themselves, and many of those ways include silencing ourselves to prevent having targets painted on our backs.
In the recent past, I had one small incident occur which brought these lessons into my life in a more personal way. Thankfully, I was never truly in danger. Thankfully, it was just one little slap in the face. And yet... it was a reminder of how far we still need to go.
**** Conversation Interrupted****
A few colleagues and I were sitting in a public place, discussing education topics. Of course, the discussion came around to the hot topic of the Common Core standards. Our discussion was friendly, and we were just talking about the positive and negative impacts the standards (and the resulting testing) was having on our professional lives and the lives of the children we teach.
Suddenly, a man walked up to us and began to engage in our discussion. He wasn't a fellow educator; just someone who was in the area. My first response was a little bit of discomfort, but I'm fairly introverted and I'm often uncomfortable when strangers jump into my conversation. My colleagues seemed fine with his questions, and one of them happily responded to his initial salvo of questions and opinions.
It didn't take long for him to start altering the conversation to fit his own agenda, though. He began with something along the lines of, "You realize the common core is part of the communist agenda, right?" and it rapidly went downhill from there. He completely hijacked our conversation and made it about global conspiracy theories and his beliefs about economics. He told us repeatedly about his graduate degrees and expertise, and seemed especially happy about that once he realized our educational backgrounds were focused on... well... education.
Even though we all have master's degrees, and one at the table has a PhD, he kept talking on and on about the things he felt HE knew that we didn't. He loomed over us, essentially trapping us at the table.
After about 5 minutes of him altering the conversation to fit his desires, and him basically just talking AT us instead of having a conversation WITH us, all three of us began to give all the social signals that we were no longer interested in this.
We stopped making eye contact. He kept talking.
We occasionally pulled out our phones to text people or engage in other activities. (I began live-tweeting my discomfort with the tag #WomanInPublic to help me manage my rapidly increasing level of stress). He kept talking.
We tried to pull the conversation back to our original discussion. He jumped it right back to conspiracy theories that would make your toenails curl.
Finally, about thirty minutes later, we realized that we really did need to locate a speaker who hadn't yet signed in for our event. We began rapidly discussing this fact and pushing papers around on the table to emphasize that we had actual things to do that didn't involve his theories.
He. Kept. Talking.
One of my group left our table to take care of an item of business. She made a point of giving us a task at the table that made it clear that we had things to do.
He. Kept. Talking.
I've mentioned I'm not comfortable with confrontation, right? One of my twitter pals suggested that I get up and start waving my hands in front of his face to tell him that I really wanted him to stop talking now. Yeah, that wasn't going to happen.
FINALLY, after almost 40 minutes of him lecturing us about his favorite topics, he walked away. He actually walked out the door and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Maybe his initial impulse to come and chat with us about common core was a good one. Maybe he had other reasons for feeling we owed him conversation that day. Maybe his "graduate degree waving" wasn't designed to prove he was better than we were, even though that's how it came across.
I've been socialized so strongly that being polite and kind is the way to be that I didn't see any other way out of this situation. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was stuck. Thankfully, I never felt like I was in any actual danger. There were no threats, no gender based slurs. This little taste of powerlessness was only a tiny glimpse into what other people face every day.
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